Much Ado About Nothing: Southeast Asian Filmmakers on Life with the 'Rona, Part 2


Our multi-part series which checks in on how filmmakers in Southeast Asia are putting up at home during the lockdown continues. From to binging on video on demand content to cooking up a feast to simply eating more, here are what filmmakers across the region are doing and watching while waiting for the 'Rona virus storm to pass. 

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Tran Thi Bich Ngoc, Vietnam
Tran is a film producer who has worked on both big Hollywood productions as well as smaller independent productions such as ‘Big Father, Small Father and Other Stories’, ‘Immortal’ and more recently ‘The Third Wife’. Named as one of the 50 most influential women in Vietnam in Forbes Vietnam in 2019, she has won numerous awards as a producer and has co-founded the program "Gap go mùa thu" (Fall Meetings), an annual cinematographic event that serves as a launching pad for young directors and talented actors.

What is your biggest concern right now?
My first thought everyday is for the safety of my family, friends, relatives & all the doctors, nurses who are working extremely hard in the forefront right now. I’m crying watching the news nowadays, seeing what happens in Italy, in the US, in Vietnam... There are so many concerns on our safety, our economy, our life..., so many thoughts to digest what is going on. But my first & foremost concern is for the strength of all doctors, nurses, I wish they stay strong & healthy & safe.

What are you watching or doing right now?
I often work a lot at home, so in principle, this does not change much the way I work, but with what is happening, it’s emotionally different. And with the fact that we cannot meet friends, have real contact with people, it’s really devastating.

Basically my daily routine is to read both books & scripts, watching movies, do some Skype business calls, stay in close touch with family & friends, and do a little walking alone in the afternoon.

What are you looking forward to after this is all over?
That we don't have to hear the word social distancing ever again in our life, that we will have back our social life but at the same time nurture every precious moment with family. We don’t need the virus to teach us that. More or less, our work, our economy will be affected but what is important is we all stay safe & healthy & never lose hope in life & in what we are pursuing. It needs more strength & resilience after the pandemic is over.


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Sorayos Prapapan, Thailand
Sorayos is an independent filmmaker, sound technician and foley artist based in Bangkok. He completed studies at the Film and Photography Thammasat University Thailand. He has directed many short films which have won awards in his home country and were shown at more than 70 film festivals including Rotterdam, Winterthur, Fribourg and Venice. Some of his notable short films include ‘Auntie Maam Has Never Had a Passport’ and ‘Death of the Sound Man’. He is now working on his first feature film ‘Arnold is a Model Student’.

What is your biggest concern right now?
Of course we all have a lot of things to be concerned about. One of the biggest concerns now is wondering if the tax I am paying is spent wisely. Also, I prefer a more sincere government, not one that hides the truth from people.

What are you watching or doing right now?
I watched many short films (mostly from My Darling QuarantineShort Film Festival). I also watched many videos on Youtube - various content such as stop motion tutorials, comedy and all kinds of nonsense stuff.

What are you looking forward to after this is all over?
I'm looking forward to hug people I want to hug. I also want to go to the Cinema and also to the swimming pool.


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Aung Phyoe, Myanmar
Aung Phyoe is a writer, director and film editor. After finishing his B.Eng. from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, he earned a diploma in editing from Mumbai-based film school, Whistling Woods International. He directed a short film ‘Seasonal Rain’ and has edited a feature film ‘Murder on the Road to Kathmandu’. His feature film project ‘Fruit Gathering’ won the Myanmar Script Fund at Memory International Film Festival in 2017 and Grand Prix at Autumn Meeting in 2018. He co-founded 3-ACT Cinema Magazine to promote cinema education in Myanmar.

What is your biggest concern right now?
I am curious how long it would take, how it would be for a third world country like us. There would be some huge problems once the epidemic is ended, there would be an economic crisis and it would definitely affect the entertainment industry. For independent cinema, it would be much more of a struggle than what we have already gone through. 

What are you watching or doing right now?
I am trying to finish the new draft of my feature script. I had just done my script consultancy by early March. While working on the new draft, the social-political situation of Burma is rapidly changing, affected by the epidemic, so I stopped writing. I am watching my collection of Japanese films from the 70s and 80s like ATG productions. And I am reading Oe's “The Silent Cry”.

What are you looking forward to after this is all over?
I am looking forward to knowing how the whole world would change after this epidemic. Like after WWII there was a huge change in art and philosophy. I am curious to know how this would affect all of us, the philosophy, expression, the artistic concerns, etc…


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Amir Muhammad, Malaysia
Amir is arguably one of the starters of the Malaysian New Wave, having written and directed Malaysia’s first DV feature, ‘Lips to Lips’ in 2000. Sharp and witty, many of his films have unfortunately been banned in Malaysia including ‘The Last Communist’ and ‘Village People Radio Show’. However, a full retrospective of his work was screened at the Pesaro Film Festival in Italy in 2008. Amir has also been recently successful as a writer with his bestselling socially critical non-fictional work Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things (Vol 1, 2007). His last film was ‘Voyage to Terengganu’.

What is your biggest concern right now?
Lack of money.

What are you watching or doing right now?
Watching mainly my diet.

What are you looking forward to after this is all over?
I look forward to releasing our film ROH in Malaysian and Singaporean cinemas, as well as festivals all over the world.


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Eden Junjung, Indonesia
Eden Junjung studied in the Film and Television department in the Indonesian Institute of the Arts (Institut Seni Indonesia) in Yogyakarta and started as an editor for several short films. His short films including ‘Bunga Dan Tembok’ (Flowers in the Wall) and ‘Happy Family’ have competed in various film festivals including the Jogja NETPAC Asian Film Festival, Bogota Short Film Festival 2016 in Colombia, Busan International Short Film Festival, Valletta Internasional Film Festival in Malta and Bridge Of Arts International Film Festival in Russia. His feature film project, ‘Mayday’, won Best Future Project at JFP Jogja NETPAC Asian Film Festival 2018.

What is your biggest concern right now?
My concern now is how to get through this condition by keeping myself healthy and thinking positively sure that this condition will soon recover like it used to.

What are you watching or doing right now?
I'm writing my script for my first feature at home.

What are you looking forward to after this is all over?
Back to normal activity make some short films again.


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Kan Lume, Singapore
Kan Lumé’s debut feature film ‘The Art of Flirting’ , which he made for just S$600 won Best ASEAN Feature at Malaysian Video Awards 2005. His second feature ‘Solos’ won the Best Newcomer Award at Torino G&L Film Festival while his third film ‘Dreams from the Third World’ received the MovieMax Award at Cinema Digital Seoul 2008. Among his more recent films, ‘Libertas’ picked up Special Mention at Cinema Digital Seoul 2012 and the NETPAC Award at Tripoli Film Festival 2013 and ‘‘The Naked DJ’ earned Kan his second NETPAC award for Best Asian Film at Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival 2014.

What is your biggest concern right now?
I am currently living and working in Johor. In Malaysia they started a Restricted Movement Order (RMO) since 18 March 2020. It will last until 14 April. Everyone not involved in providing essential services towards combating Covid has to stay at home unless going out for groceries. My biggest concern is people's worst and basest instincts coming to the fore during crisis time. There are always people who need someone to get angry with, someone to blame. If the government is too inaccessible an entity to blame, the next best thing is usually someone of a different race. Malaysians are generally friendly people. And there are enough sensible and kind folk that will counterbalance any stupidity. But media can amplify the stupid actions of a few and skew the perception of many. That's the other concern I have. Social media algorithms do generally highlight stories that get the most attention. And just like traditional print media, except now at lightning speed, sensationally negative stories are often spread around faster than any virus. This leads to general anxiety and panic. I have tried to stay away from social media as much as possible. 

What are you watching or doing right now?
I purchased an air-fryer earlier this year and have been using it to cook simple meals. This is something new for me as I used to eat out all the time (Malaysian street food being so cheap). It turned out to be a timely change of lifestyle! I am now cooking beef steaks for meals everyday. Besides my usual habit of sampling new shows to discover a worthwhile series, I have been revisiting films about disasters. Contagion plays like a prophecy and shows Steven Soderbergh as a true visionary. Spielberg's War of The Worlds is the director in his prime and showcases with great flair all the anxieties, terror, excitement, exhaustion of what being in a crisis real time feels like. Other films/series I've watched since the Restricted Movement Order started: After Life (Recommended), Dead To Me (Recommended), Chicago Fire (My guilty pleasure. Basically soap opera with fire involved), High Flying Bird, Osmosis, Cells At Work, Typewriter, Itaewon Class, Claire's Camera, Human Space Time and Human, The Following, The Naked Director, American Factory, Revenger (Awful. Skip to final fight scene). 

What are you looking forward to after this is all over? 
I look forward to continuing a podcast series I have been doing called 'The Conversation Club'. It is basically straightforward conversations I have with my University students about their experiences as a film student and filmmaking. I also recently purchased new wireless microphones to go with my phone camera and I'm looking forward to shooting more vignettes with my students using these easy to operate equipment. I will also be working on my Masters degree in the next two years. My thesis will be exploring 'writing a script (on the spot) during production'. As always, I look forward to trying out new things, taking bigger risks, making films.


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Perci Intalan, Philippines
An award-winning director, producer and writer, Perci has directed films such as ‘Unforgettable’ (co-directed with Jun Robles Lana), ‘Distance’, ‘Born Beautiful’, ‘My Fairy Tail Love Story’ and ‘Dementia’. As a producer, he has made ‘Bwakaw’, ‘Barber's Tales’ and ‘Shadow Behind the Moon’ and box-office hits such as ‘The Panti Sisters’, ‘Ang Dalawang Mrs Reyes’ (The Two Mrs Reyeses) and ‘Die Beautiful’. He is the President of The IdeaFirst Company, which has produced over 21 films partnering with all the major studios in the Philippines.

What is your biggest concern right now?
Honestly, with Metro Manila in lockdown, my biggest concern is making sure everyone I know is ok. Apart from checking on my immediate and extended family, there are a lot of production personnel that lost their source of income and most of them can’t afford even a week without work. And even if I find out they need financial help, getting the money to them is a challenge too. We also have some people we know who got sick — sadly, two of them passed away. It’s a terrible situation but we’re banding together to help each other.

What are you watching or doing right now?
There’s still a lot of work to do but essentially I watch the news on TV and online.  And of course  at night I watch Netflix or the local streaming platforms  Two movies IdeaFirst produced are on Netflix’s trending list so that’s a bit of a thrill during these trying times.

What are you looking forward to after this is all over? 
I’d like to say I look forward to getting our lives back to normal but I know that there’s going to be a lot of work before that happens.  Industries are hurting — and the entertainment industry is among them. I’m also worried about how the cinemas will bounce back. But I know we all would.  It will just take a bit of time and a lot of effort, but we’ll get through this.


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Tan Si En, Singapore
A producer based in Singapore, Si En has worked under the mentorship of Soros Sukhum (185 Films, Thailand), Lai Weijie (E&W Films, Singapore), and Anthony Chen (Giraffe Pictures, Singapore). She produced ‘Wet Season’ by Anthony Chen, and was the assistant producer of Kirsten Tan’s ‘POP AYE’. She is in the midst of developing ‘Ajoomma’ by He Shuming as well as ‘Arnold is a Model Student’ by Sorayos Prapapan. 

What is your biggest concern right now?
Livelihood of filmmakers/crew, especially freelancers. A lot of projects and jobs are either delayed or postponed, I hope that everyone will be able to tide through this difficult period.

What are you watching or doing right now?
Watching a lot of Netflix, my favourite series now is ‘I’m not okay with this’. Also short films! Some festivals have gone online, I’m currently watching the SXSW shorts.

What are you looking forward to after this is all over? 
I’m looking forward to being back on set and shooting something, anything! Also, can’t wait to travel to festivals and hang out with film friends.


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Anucha Boonyawatana, Thailand
Anucha is a Thai independent film director and also the founder of G-Motif Production, one of the largest video production companies in Thailand. Her thesis film ‘Down The River’ in 2004, won her the Young Thai Artist Award. Her feature directorial debut, ‘The Blue Hour’, premiered at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival, while her latest feature film, ‘Malila: The Farewell Flower’, won the Kim Ji-seok award at the 22nd Busan International Film Festival and has been shown at several film festivals around Asia.

What is your biggest concern right now?
I'm not so afraid of the virus. Perhaps I'm LGBT and had some experiences when HIV was spreading in the 90s and 2000s. The coronavirus is very different but that experience made me get used to illness and death. However, I'm living with my father and aunts, they're very old and very sensitive to the virus. So we practised many measures to prevent coronavirus infection at home since January (if I contacted a virus from outside). What I am more concerned about is my company and crew. We have to find a way to survive both from the virus and for our livelihood and economy.   

What are you watching or doing right now?
Of course, I have more time to watch many films and series. I just finished watching Kingdom of Heaven (director's cut), a 2005 epic film of Ridley Scott. Surprisingly, it's very good compared to a theatrical release version and it's a good example to learn about film editing because we can compare the two versions and see what has been cut and its effect on the storytelling.

I also have some film projects but they are still in the script development process. So it's quite nice to have online meetings with my scriptwriters. However, I also do some commercials and face the same problem as many people. All my commercial jobs were cancelled. We can't do any productions as the clients have put every project on hold and don't want to spend money at this time. 

What are you looking forward to after this is all over?  
Lately, I consulted many filmmakers, directors, producers and many crews. We try to make a standard measure to prevent coronavirus infection in Film & TV productions. Not just wearing a mask and washing hands, it's challenging since the production is where the people come into contact with each other(acting, directing, managing, eating) and share things (camera, equipment, wardrobe, probs and makeup etc...). This has now been proposed to the Ministry of Public Health and it'll take some time for them to approve and publish it. I'm talking about 1-3 months (maybe longer) after the strict quarantine time ends. The cinemas may still close but I think it's important to start productions again, at least for TV and online platforms. This will prevent many production crew from being out of job for too long and help the film industry recover.


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Mattie Do, Laos
Mattie is Laos’ first, and only, female filmmaker. Her feature debut, “Chanthaly,” was the ninth feature film pro­duced in the country since the 1975 revolution, and was the first Lao film to screen outside of Southeast Asia. Her second feature, ‘Dearest Sister’, screened at multiple festivals and was later selec­ted as Laos’ first official submission to the Academy Awards. Alongside Laos’ Ministry of Culture, Do has helped create the infrastructure necessary to intro­duce foreign co-productions, including a framework for managing the country’s rigid censorship. She just released her last feature film ‘The Long Walk’ at the Venice Film Festival last year.

What is your biggest concern right now?
In terms of film, I'm most concerned about the films that did not get the publicity that they deserved, the premieres that they were supposed to have, and the festivals coming back to normalcy or even existence because of the huge and sudden blow that was most likely financially devastating for arts and culture events that already had difficulty year to year with budgets in general. For myself, on a personal level, I just don't want it to become The Road or Mad Max

What are you watching or doing right now?
Surprisingly, I have restarted dance training. I had stopped all ballet training to focus on film when I became a filmmaker, but now that I'm locked in, I am reminded of how sedentary my lifestyle is, and I've started taking beginning ballet classes with some of my old teachers again online! Of course, I'm also watching some Netflix content as well, and I recently saw The Invisible Man, which was so tense and excellent! My husband and I have started to dive into classic Spaghetti Westerns from Italy and Giallos. 

What are you looking forward to after this is all over?  
To be honest, I'm so looking forward to making more films, because I think that people are going to be seeking entertainment or an escape from the present day stresses after this is all over. I'm also looking forward to taking my dog to a barbecue with a lot of good friends without worrying about giving each other a hug or kiss on the cheek! Haha!


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Sanif Olek, Singapore
Sanif is an accomplished and versatile television and film writer, producer & director, having received multiple ‘Best Director’, ‘Best Drama Series’, ‘Best Magazine Series’ awards for his television work. He is the head creative at reeljuice, a collaborative agency actively promoting effective storytelling. His debut feature film, ‘Sayang Disayang’, received the Special Jury Prize for Best Asian Film at the SalaMindanaw Asian Film Festival (November 2013, Philippines) and subsequently represented Singapore in the 2015 Oscars Best Foreign Language Film competition.

What is your biggest concern right now?
My biggest concern right now is how many are not taking the quarantine and social distancing seriously. Perhaps they are not concerned that when they are hospitalised at the chronic stage they’ll be all alone because no visitors are allowed. Worst they’ll die alone and get buried/cremated with no relatives saying final farewell. I’m also concerned that peers in the other arts practices are not getting paycheques due to cancelled gigs. I’ve also received several queries from the filmmakers who have been only 3-4 years in the industry looking for jobs - any jobs, on set. Quite depressing.

What are you watching or doing right now?
Good question, other than my completing the ongoing filming schedule, it’s a good time to catch up on Netflix. At the moment I’m watching the lighter stuff - I’m finishing Kingdom season 2, Alternate Carbon and South Park. Perhaps when filming is done I’ll get to the more cerebral ones :D

What are you looking forward to after this is all over? 
I see the situation as a good time to return to the stories and concepts put on the backburner. When work is slow I’ll continue writing because when you’re on set for 12-14 hours everyday the last thing you want to do when you come home is to look at your laptop. I want to revisit these ideas and perhaps return to films when everything cools down. Story is king. Uplifting inspirational stories trumps especially after this depressing episode.


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Chulayarnnon Siriphol, Thailand 
Both filmmaker and visual artist, Chulayarnnon captures human behaviour as both absurd and wondrous. His work operates between film, documentary and experimental video, and explores his personal memories and what it means to live in modern Bangkok. His pieces, which include ‘Vanishing Horizon of the Sea’, ‘A Brief History of Memory’, ‘Myth of Modernity’, ‘10 Years Thailand’ and ‘100 Times Reproduction of Democracy’ superimpose aspects of modern living with distinctly Thai elements and contemporary life in Thailand. 

What is your biggest concern right now?
I'm concerned this is not gonna end soon. I am sure we can control the virus. In the near future,  there are many crises such as economic crises or political crises. When we cannot live in this situation for a long time, we have to think to survive in the long term. 

What are you watching or doing right now?
I am making a new video animation for my solo exhibition at Bangkok CityCity Gallery called Give Us A Little More Time. The animation is created from daily newspaper collages when Thailand was under military government from 2014-2019. This animation is about how the media works in the future.

What are you looking forward to after this is all over? 
I am looking forward to seeing people live differently in the new order. It is gonna be a new standard. People would think about how shall we live in the future. When the world looks like apocalypse now, I am planning to move to virtual reality not in this physical world. 


This is a multi-part series. Check out Part 1 here.

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